by Bill Onasch
I’m interrupting my extended holiday break to wish all readers a Happy New Year.
Since my Junior year in High School in 1959 I’ve been motivated to celebrate more than just a new orbital lap around the Sun. On New Year’s Eve ushering in that year the hated Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista–in the pocket of American corporations and American gangsters–fled the country with an estimated 300 million dollars in cash. Only the fascist dictators in first Portugal, and after revolution there Franco’s Spain, would accept him as a resident protected from extradition. Soon rural guerilla forces led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara linked up with the July 26 Movement urban workers led by Armando Hart in Havana–where they had quickly taken charge in the capital abandoned by the dictatorship.
The fusion poet/singer Gil Scott-Heron told us The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. But in fact important events in the early stages of the victorious Cuban Revolution were–often beamed live in to the USA. Though not fluent in Spanish, I could tell the bearded, then cigar smoking Fidel was one of the great orators around, holding the attention of giant outdoor audiences for hours at a time.
Like millions of other young people throughout the world at that time, I was greatly inspired by this revolution that offered an alternative to the evils of global capitalism while mostly avoiding the evils of Stalinism. I have long wanted to visit Cuba to see its accomplishments and shortfalls for myself–but have been prevented from doing so by the government that speaks in my name. Fifty-five years later I am still inspired by this living–though severely threatened– example of what a government dedicated to the interests of those who do the work can accomplish.
Realizing the new regime could not be bought, the first commercial and financial sanctions against the Revolution came under Eisenhower in response to nationalizations of U.S.-owned monopolies in October, 1960. In April of the next year the new Kennedy administration organized the quickly crushed Bay of Pigs invasion. After first sending out secret shoppers to buy up all available Havana cigars for his personal humidors, JFK imposed a near total embargo on all U.S. transactions with Cuba in February, 1962. Bill Clinton ratcheted up that ban to include foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies in 1999.
Few other countries have respected these sanctions. Canadian tourists have continued to enjoy the white sand beaches of Cuba verboten to us Yanks. Venezuela provides 100,000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for the services of one surplus high quality Cuban asset–doctors. A similar cash arrangement is in place with Brazil.
But while crucially helpful, these do not make up for the extensive trade at reasonable terms lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the COMECON trading bloc 25 years ago. The ex-KGB leaders who started restoring capitalism while winding down the Cold War aren’t doing Cuba any favors.
Despite all this, the Cuban people still have access to free health care that is in some respects superior to the USA, as well as an excellent free education system.
No country has been better prepared in protecting their people from natural disasters such as frequent hurricanes. The Cubans have also been in the forefront of arguing for meaningful international action on climate change. Inability to obtain chemical fertilizers and herbicides has stimulated big advances in organic sustainable farming. Though their resources are limited, they have been generous in helping others with critical assistance in time of need, such as the earthquake in Haiti.
And no nation develops better baseball players.
So far, the institutions established by the Revolution have continued to meet the basic needs of the people. There are no pockets of abject poverty so common throughout Latin America–and in the cities of North America.
But while needs are satisfied wants are another matter. Consumer goods and services known to be widespread ninety miles away are still out of reach for most Cubans–and the U.S. government is determined to keep it that way in the forlorn hope that craving for i-Pads will finally spark counter-revolution.
There was recently much speculation about the meaning of President Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial meeting. Even Fidel’s younger brother seemed a bit uncertain and, heading off possible mistaken identity, thought it prudent to remind the leader of the Free World–“I’m Castro.” But I attach no more importance to this polite ritual at a memorial gathering than I do to the giggling threesome “selfie” the President posed for there with the Prime Ministers of Britain and Denmark. The government of the richest and most ruthless ruling class in history is not mellowing with age.
The surviving Cuban Revolution warrants active working class solidarity as well as admiration. That’s indispensable to winning a reversal of the unconscionable war of economic attrition waged by Washington against Cuba.
Shortly after the 1996 launch of the now moribund Labor Party an Oregon chapter adopted a statement that began,
“The Columbia River/Willamette Valley Chapter of the Labor Party, in policy agreement with the International Longshoremen’s & Warehousemen’s Union, is firmly opposed to inhumane actions by the United States government against the people of Cuba, and reaffirms its long-standing opposition to the economic embargo against the island nation.”
Some veteran Pacific Northwest activists responsible for that position are still promoting the principle that worker solidarity knows no borders–and are also starting to regroup as Labor Party Advocates.
In recent years the Great Recession and austerity programs in Europe have indirectly compounded the effect of the American embargo. This has led to some controversial reform measures in Cuba and more are being considered. These are tough choices for the defenders of the Revolution to work through.
Our choices are not so tough. My New Year Resolution Number One is rededication to fighting the embargo and travel ban causing so much hardship for our worker sisters and brothers in that land. Venceramos!
31,000 IAM Boeing workers in the Seattle area will vote Friday on a company contract proposal slightly enhanced over one earlier rejected by a two-to-one margin. The balloting was ordered by International president Tom Buffenbarger over the objections of Local elected leaders.
In case they had forgotten, in a letter to members Buffenbarger reminded them that the company had started seeking bids elsewhere for new 777x work immediately after their rejection of the previous offer. Making the astounding claim that the new proposal was a billion dollar improvement over the last, he ominously warned, “the timeline for the Puget Sound area is expiring….I am duty-bound to inform the membership this vote will be the final vote on this proposed contract.”
Despite this pressure from the International union and Washington’s Democrat Governor to accept, IAM District 751 leaders are strongly urging rejection. Addressing the prospect of keeping thousands of jobs on the new 777x model if they agree to draconian take-backs the local union officers note,
“There’s no clear statement of work, and the language in the Boeing proposal clearly states that the company reserves the right to subcontract or outsource ‘certain 777X work packages in whole or part.’”
They also review how increases in worker share of health care costs, and insulting token sub-inflation raises, will result in a substantial cut in take-home pay. They warn of the perils of the termination of the defined benefit pension. And they conclude,
“Finally, the proposal would lock in place all other provisions of our current contract until 2024. There will be no opportunity to negotiate changes to benefit you for nearly 11 years. That includes pay for new hires.”
My friend Dave Riehle in St Paul included me on an e-mail message entitled “Thought For the New Year.” It consisted of a chart with these figures for the ratio of corporate CEO compensation to average worker wage in several countries:
There are already two major working class events scheduled for 2014 worth noting on your calendar:
* The biannual Labor Notes Conference, expected to draw over a thousand labor activists from around the country and around the world, will take place in Chicago April 4-6. Details here.
* A Twin Cities planning committee has begun work on a big celebration of the Eightieth Anniversary of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters Strikes–a major historic turning point for the American labor movement–in July. (You can read an article I wrote about an impressive 75th anniversary commemoration here.) The WIR will pass along details as they become available.
Resumption of the Daily News Updates on our companion Labor Advocate blog will mark the end of our year-end break next Monday, January 6.
And in closing I extend congratulations to Kshama Sawant as she today begins her term on the Seattle City Council, described by the New York Times as A Rare Elected Voice for Socialism.
That’s all for this week.
Our sole source of income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.
Bill Onasch is a paid-up member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981.